Who benefits from unsolicited criticism?

(Originally a thread on FB here)

Discussions about whether it’s good to get unsolicited criticism tend to feel like people talking past each other. The “yay unsolicited criticism!” side keeps pointing out how criticism helps you improve. But I don’t think that’s the real crux of the disagreement, for the “boo unsolicited criticism!” people.

Instead, I think that the value of unsolicited criticism to a particular person depends on a few key variables:

  1. How much effort do you already spend looking for your own flaws?
  2. How good are you at picking up on implicit feedback from other people’s reactions to you? (To be clear, 1 & 2 determine how likely you are to already have noticed the problem someone else is pointing out to you.)
  3. How much difficulty do you have self-modifying — i.e., acting on feedback?
  4. How much stress or anxiety do you feel when you’re reminded of things you know you’re doing wrong but can’t change?

I hypothesize that people whose answers are “more than average” to these questions are the ones who don’t usually appreciate receiving unsolicited criticism, even when it’s well-intentioned.

My point here: yes, probably there’s some element of irrationality on the part of the “boo unsolicited criticism!” people, in the sense that they’re unwilling to endure short-term discomfort in exchange for long-term gains. But to a large extent, I think they’re rationally evaluating the costs and benefits of unsolicited criticism, for themselves, and correctly perceiving that it’s not a good deal for them.